Within Sarah Cunningham’s painting there is a continuous desire or interest in a relationship with the natural world — its flora and fauna and mysteries. She draws on collective memories of landscapes to create works that deeply connect to the human psyche. The paintings exist as an attempt to inhabit the space of an in-between, an interval between ‘worlds’.
Recently, Cunningham has been thinking of ways to connect the human condition to the physical and transcendental universe through the surface of a canvas. She embraces the impossible space of a painting whilst making clear that this is a highly artificial space. Through various degrees of abstraction these landscapes can provide pathways or even portals to suggest a screen, an aperture, a gateway to another plane or a hidden reality. These unconscious processes surface through a fragmented interplay of light, earth, plant, sky and water. Tonal values and passages are laid down using heavily loaded brush work; pockets of space and washes create depth. Her brushwork plays with how paint acts on a surface, marks are painted intuitively and act as an entangled foliage of sorts; a network of botanical bonds. This referencing of plant forms happens intermittently and intuitively. The landscapes materialize slowly over time, like the form of a mandala opens out to symbolize the infinite cosmos. The notion that the experience of a landscape is connected in some intangible way with deeper matters relating to our personal existence and the span of life remains strange and hard to define. The artist’s intention is for the paintings to unfold themselves slowly – an attempt to open up a space for these transformations.
The forest in particular is a recurring motif in the work and it stands as a metaphor and a model of thinking, a reflection of our existence in this social climate. The forests Cunningham has experienced have become her muse. From the Panamanian forests of Guna Yala where she lived with the indigenous Kuna community on a research residency, to the forests next to the home she grew up in, Cunningham is interested in how all of these experiences are connected and how they translate into her painting process. She favors this notion of interrelation in order to create a second nature, a mimesis, a bodily knowledge, a means of ‘contact’ between distant beings, in different realms, different time zones.